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COMMENT Never before has our beloved nation witnessed such an excess of religious and racial strife since the bloody days of May 13, 1969. The latest fatwa (religious edict) of the mufti of Pahang is one such gross aberration to the values of equality, diversity, mutual respect and harmony espoused by the teachings of the Quran and the authentic traditions of the Prophet (pbuh).

And unless this malicious abuse of religious authority is checked with an effective and just political and societal governance, we are surely on the slippery slope towards anarchy.

The term harbi as defined by the fuqaha (Muslim jurists) since the early writings of Muhammad bin Hasan al-Shaibani and Imam al-Awza’ie in their treatise of 'Fiqh al-Siyar' (International Relations in Islam), implies that the person or group can be legitimately killed by Muslims due to their infidelity and aggression towards the Islamic state or community.

Hence, declaring certain individuals or groups in Malaysia kafir harbi is tantamount to legitimising the Islamic State (IS) discourse and would potentially open the floodgates of violent acts on Malaysian soil.

The classification of non-Muslim residents in the Islamic state into harbi and dhimmi is a historical issue that emerged during the classical period due to the global socio-political conditions then.

States were not built on political identity as presently, but were kingdoms and empires that resort to religious and tribalistic identity as their legitimacy. Muslim scholars reasoned and rationalised through the process of ijtihad that the historical context has changed and the new reality of nation-state framework and socio-politics had to be addressed differently and appropriately.

In 1839, the Ottoman ruler, Sultan Abdul Majid, issued the Khatti-Sherif of Gulhane, proclaiming the principle of equality between the Muslims and the Christians. This virtually erased the classical legal status of the dhimmis (Al-Ghunaimi, Mohammad Talaat, 1968: 213)

The Muslims scholar Fathi Osman wrote: “I do not think Muslims have any legal problem with regard to full equality with non-Muslims in rights and obligations. What emerged as the status of dhimmis (non-Muslims within the Muslim state) was historically developed rather than built in the permanent laws of the Quran and Sunnah.

“Many scholars, including the Westerners, admit that the status of non-Muslims in the Muslim world during the Middle Ages was better than what the Jews or other religious minorities received in the Christian countries in those ages.” (Human Rights in the Contemporary World - Problems for Muslims and Others)

As alluded by Fathi Osman, the issues of citizenship and nationality, in the absence of definite rulings from the texts of Quran and hadiths, are categorised within the radius of mu’amalaat (human relationship) and Muslim jurists since the classical period have regarded it as within the domain of Ibahah (permissibility), in an effort to promote the common good and benefit (jalb al masalih) and the avoidance and protection from harm (dar’ al mafasid).

Arriving at the best practices

It thus falls within the realm of ijtihad of the fuqaha who endeavoured to arrive at the best practices within the socio-political context, inspired by the spirit of the maqasid shari’ah (higher objectives of the Islamic jurisprudence).

Many contemporary Muslim scholars, the likes of Syaikh Muhamamd Abu Zahrah, Syaikh Abdullah bin Bayyah, Syaikh Dr Yusuf Qaradawi, Syeikh Wahbah al-Zuhayli, Dr Fahmi Huwaidi and Dr Muhammad Emarah Syakh have opined that the categories of kafir harbi and kafir dhimmi are no longer relevant and applicable within the socio-political structure of the modern world today.

Instead, under the framework of constitutional modern state that has been acknowledged by most Muslim prominent scholars (except al-Qaeda, IS, Boko Haram, et al) it should be replaced by the term Muwatin which denotes citizens, who are granted equal rights, similar to the majority Muslim population of the contemporary Islamic state.

Allah has created all human beings with honour and dignity, Muslims and non-Muslims alike, and has elevated their status above His other creations. Allah says in the Quran (17:70): “We gave honour and dignity (Karamat) to the children of Adam.”

As much as we would like to be honoured and shown dignity, we have to recognise the dignity and honour of others.

Unfortunately, the actions of the few in our country, which, among others, have inadvertently equated Islam with religious intolerance and racism, their failure to recognise the equality of man before his creator, their parochial understanding of the brotherhood of man and their blatant impingement on other religions have tarnished the image of the messenger of Allah (pbuh) as rahmatan lil alamin, mercy upon mankind.

Peaceful co-existence and harmonious cohesion with other religious communities have been well documented in Islamic history since the Prophet began his call to Islam in Makkah and unfolded one of the greatest political documents in human history, Sahifah al-Madinah or the constitution of Madinah (622 AD).

This treatise embraced 20 major principles including Unity, Diversity, Conduct, Fighting Injustice, Search or Striving for Peace, Freedom of Religion and the Rule of Law.

Another illustrious model was the La Convivencia (co-existence) in Andalusia during the Islamic rule in Spain. The spirit of mutual respect and recognition did not only flourish in the Islamic civilisation, but also enhanced the Christian and Jewish intellectual and cultural environment. (Pagden, Anthony (2008). Worlds at War: The 2,500-Year Struggle between East & West. New York: Oxford University Press: 153-54)

We would like to reassure our fellow Malaysians from other belief systems of the mutually respectful, peaceful co-existence and inclusive nature of Islam on human relations in our multi-religious community. Together, hand in hand in religious harmony we can build a ‘Better Malaysia’ founded on the eternal values of justice, equality, mutual benefit (masalih mushtarakah) and the brotherhood and dignity of mankind.

MASZLEE MALIK is adviser and DR MUSA MOHD NORDIN is director of the Muslim Professionals Forum (MPF).

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